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Pilot died in military jet crash near Death Valley’s ‘Star Wars Canyon,’ Navy confirms

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A photographer said he captured the military jet before and after it crashed.
(KGrif Photography)

The Navy has confirmed that the pilot of the F/A-18E Super Hornet that crashed Wednesday died in the crash at Death Valley National Park. The jet assigned to the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 was based at Naval Air Station Lemoore.

The identity of the pilot will be withheld for 24 hours following notification of the next of kin.

“The Navy mourns the loss of one of our own and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected by this tragedy,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock said in a statement.

The cause of the crash is currently under investigation.

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The plane went down about 10 a.m. near an area often referred to as Star Wars Canyon, not far from the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Seven visitors suffered minor injuries.

Search-and-rescue teams that had been dispatched out of China Lake and Naval Station Lemoore continued to look for the pilot throughout the night.

While it is not common for military jets to fly low over national parks, it is a standard practice in Death Valley.

“It’s one of the main attractions,” said Death Valley National Park public information officer Patrick Taylor.

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The Air Force and Navy have used the area for military training practices since the early 1930s.

Most of the aircraft that pass through come from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Edwards Air Force Base, Fresno Air National Guard Base and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. International jets are also known to make flybys.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.


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